Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Leadership: Vision, Philosophy, and Style

BOND: Let me ask you a question about in your life, the difference between vision, philosophy, and style. How do these interact for you?

HEIGHT: I think vision is a kind of capacity, almost a spiritually-based capacity, to see ahead, to be able to envision something that may be -- that is far-reaching. For example, to envision a world without hunger, but also to have a vision as to how you might achieve that, so that your vision is related to a -- an ultimate goal, something that one -- and it is not something that's just immediately achieved. The other one was --

BOND: Philosophy.

HEIGHT: I think your philosophy drives your vision. It is -- your philosophy is that which you truly believe. Dr. [Benjamin] Mays used to say, "We often say we believe one thing and do another.” And that is not true. We act -- whatever we act on is what we believe. And I think philosophy is the beliefs that drive one. It is that which one wants, what one feels, what one understands, what one was committed to. I think that's your philosophy.

BOND: And style?

HEIGHT: I think the way you do it is different. People have different styles. And you cannot -- and I think often many people have -- consider a leader one who can, you know, speak loud, and so on and so forth. That's a good style for speech, but not necessarily leadership. And that your style also often reflects your philosophy.

BOND: I see. Now, what about your vision? Have you had a vision that's guided your work in your life, and has it changed over time?

HEIGHT: My vision, the thing to which I have committed my life, is broad. I have had a drive for, you know -- and I think, like they say, the prophets' blood boil at certain things. Mine boils around the issue of social justice. Social justice not just for women, but social justice. And for the -- you know, sort of the recognition of the dignity of every human being. That is -- and I think as I look back, I think that it has been the same, but with different dimensions as I've gone along.

BOND: And what are the dimensions? How did the dimensions enter into this vision, or alter this vision in one way or the other?

HEIGHT: Well, as a child, I didn't know it was social action, but I acted against being denied the chance to swim in a pool. I've reacted against the policies that kept me out of a pool because I was black.

BOND: So the vision became more refined?

HEIGHT: Yes, it became more -- and it got more stimulated in childhood because I witnessed so much of inequality and so much suffering. When I was a student at New York University, I would walk through, during the height of the Depression, men sitting in the yards, in the gardens, with baskets of apples, trying to sell them for a nickel, and every day that just disturbed me. When I went to India and I saw so many people just homeless, and I witnessed a woman having a child lying there suffering, then I realized what the depths of poverty means, and homelessness and so on. So that everyone and everything that I have touched like that has made me work all the harder, made me feel I needed to work that much harder.

BOND: It reinforced the vision.

HEIGHT: Reinforced the vision that this is not -- that we have a world in which there is enough for people to have, there's enough food, there's enough of everything. But somehow or other we have to find ways to make sure that everyone has their opportunity, everyone has a chance to develop, to grow.